Should Parents Push or Carry Their Infants?
Exploring the impact of different types of baby carriers on parent-child interactions.
Why Does the Type of Carrier Matter?
A significant amount of an infant’s daily life is spent being transported from place to place. Parents can transport their children by pushing them in a stroller, carrying them in a backpack, or holding them in a sling. Parents have lots to accomplish outside of the house, and these types of carriers allow them to easily take their children wherever they go- whether this may be to a busy grocery store or to the library!
Given how much time young children spend in carriers, it is important to think about what a child’s experience is like during transport. How might parents be able to make sure that their child’s time spent in a carrier is still an opportunity for being social and learning language? Different types of carriers likely offer children unique experiences. For example, the sights and sounds that children are able to see and hear when riding in a stroller are different from those they are able to see and hear when they are riding in a backpack. By better understanding what children experience in each type of carrier, parents can make informed decisions about times of day or activities to use one carrier or another.
What Did They Study?
A recent study explored this question of how young children’s experiences differ when they are riding in a stroller versus and when they are riding in a backpack. The researchers were interested in understanding whether riding in one of these two types of carriers would lead to more engagement (shared interaction) between the parents and their children. The study was based on the researchers’ theory that compared to stroller rides, backpack rides give children more of a chance to observe their surroundings and share the following important experiences with their parent:
- Have the same view of the environment as their parent, since they are riding upright above their parent’s head!
- Bounce with the same rhythm as their parent as they walk together and have the flexibility to move their limbs and turn their head to mirror their parent’s movement.
When being carried in a backpack, a child sits upright, and shares sights, sounds, and movement with their parent. Therefore, in comparison to a stroller ride, a backpack ride may encourage more interaction between a child and parent. To test this prediction the researchers designed a study in which parents took their 6 to 11-month-old infants on two 8-minute outdoor walks. On one of two these walks infants rode in a stroller, and on the other they rode in a front-facing backpack. During both walks, infants wore small cameras on headbands so that researchers were able to measure 1) how much infants were moving their heads to explore their environments, and 2) how frequently both infants and parents communicated using either sounds or words. The researchers were particularly interested in measuring parent-child “conversations,” or moments of vocal back-and-forth between the parent and child.
What Did They Find?
By comparing how observant and vocal infants were in a stroller and in a backpack, researchers were able to test whether one of these types of carriers may lead to relatively more parent-child engagement. During backpack rides (compared to stroller rides) they found that:
- Infants visually explored their surroundings more
- Parents talked for longer periods
- Infants vocalized more
- Parents and infants engaged in more “conversations” (back to back turns)
- “Conversations” were more frequently started by infants
Which Carrier Should Parents Use?
The study findings highlight how different types of carriers provide infants with unique experiences. Infants were more engaged with their parent and with their environment during backpack rides than during stroller rides.
- When choosing a carrier: Strollers may be ideal for taking an infant on a long walk during naptime or during an afternoon of errands. However, when taking a child for a walk as an activity, using a backpack will likely help to maximize the opportunities that the infant has for learning language and engaging with their parent.
- When using a backpack: Infants have the same view as their parent while in a backpack so parents can point out and describe objects and events that they pass on their walk. For example, pointing to a dog on their walk and saying “I see a brown dog!”
- When using a stroller: When using a stroller on a leisure walk, parents could take pauses to crouch at the front of the stroller and describe something eventful. Since the infant’s position in the stroller may not naturally lead to as many opportunities for engagement, the parent can incorporate more deliberate breaks for language and interaction.
By considering what a child can hear, see, and feel in different types of carriers, parents can make informed decisions about what type of carrier to use, and how to interact with their child when using each type. Such considerations may help parents and children meaningfully share the experience of taking walks so that both parent and child can enjoy the ride!
Mireault, G. C., Rainville, B. S., & Laughlin, B. (2018). Push or Carry? Pragmatic Opportunities for Language Development in Strollers versus Backpacks. Infancy, 23(4), 616-624.